Old Endings and New Beginnings

They say when a door closes, another opens. No wonder it's drafty.

I’ve been spending a lot of time this week feeling introspective about this project.  That sentence might seem like it’s lacking some self-awareness, as this blog is basically one long object-lesson in the concept of introspection, but I mean I’m feeling that way moreso than the usual.  I finished La Corona del Pastor this week, meaning there are no more Discworld books for me to read.  I started reading the series on February 22nd, and since then I basically read the series straight through from the beginning to the end with no breaks.  A few days here and there I played a video game or two with Spanish text and called that my reading for the day, but there were no breaks to read something different, just book after book of Discworld through all forty available novels from February 22nd to December 4th.  Closing that last book didn’t just feel like I was saying goodbye to those characters, it also felt like I closed a chapter in this very project.

There are other things at play to make me feel that way, too.  Last week’s blogwas a retrospective on an even six months of blogging since the last retrospective, and coincidentally lands right around the two year mark for when I started learning Spanish (I don’t recall what day I specifically started, but it was near the end of November, 2017).  It’s also nearing the end of the calendar year, so thinking in terms of endings and beginnings is only natural.  And I also finished the season of She-Ra that I’ve been dawdling to finish savoring.  And lest we forget that I just got a new job and am in the beginning stages of starting a gender transition, for goodness sake.  Really, it would be strange if I didn’t feel like I was closing a book of my life and opening a new one.

So here I am, closing the Discworld chapter of this blog, and contemplating what chapter comes next.  I started in on Antihistoria de México this week and read Carlos Camarrón en los Aullidos del Horror, and I have another book lined up to read next, too, so I’m not exactly without something to read, but I do feel a little at loose ends.  Discworld, like Dresden Files before it, felt tailor-made for this project.  I like longform story series and getting a large amount of narrow input is great for improving one’s language skills, so I was off to the races.  And while part of me wants to figure out the next series to do that with, another part of me is reluctant.  I have shifted more and more of my listening time to material that is 100% authentic Spanish content that it feels weird to dive into the next long-term reading plan of an English book series that was translated into Spanish.

I’ve had that concern before and felt both a little culturally insensitive and a lot white because I just didn’t have a mental list of “books I ought to read,” but I largely set that feeling aside aside when I tried asking around on places like Reddit for native speakers’ favorite books when they were kids and overwhelmingly got the answer Harry Potter.  But, as an important qualification to that, I’m not at the “when they were kids” stage of reading anymore.  Several days reading a dry-witted history book, I can say with some confidence that I read at a pretty advanced level now, and I might be hitting a place where the subtleties of a story written originally in Spanish in comparison to one that was translated might be starting to matter, with or without there being a cultural experience or knowledge that I’m missing out on.

I’m not going to out and out ban translated books going forward or anything, but it might end up playing a role for me for a while.  And, fortunately, I think I might have a better handle on working that out now.  At my new job, I have some coworkers who are native Spanish speakers that I’ve been making friends with (note: because they’re nice people, not because they can speak Spanish!), and I’ve gotten a handful of book recommendations already.  I would really like to find something that’s an actual series, so there’s a possibility that after a while I dive into, I don’t know, The Wheel of Time in Spanish or something.  Or I might find a series that fits the bill and was originally written in Spanish.  Or I’ll reach a skill level with Spanish where I decide to move my focus elsewhere before any of this comes up.  Who knows?  I sure don’t.

What I do know is that as this new chapter of learning and living opens, I’m looking forward with optimism for what the future might bring.  It has been a long and plodding road on the intermediate plateau, but I can finally see the peak through the fog, and I feel like I can actually reach the summit.

Forgive my mountain climbing metaphors, I do live in Colorado.

Anyway, let’s look at this week’s numbers.

Tuesday 12/03

  • Duolingo: 20 XP earned, ~0 minutes
  • Reading: 10% of La Corona del Pastor, ~60 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of Kiwillius, 1 episode of Disenchantment, ~60 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Wednesday 12/04

  • Duolingo: 20 XP earned, ~0 minutes
  • Reading: 10% of La Corona del Pastor, ~60 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of Kiwillius, ~60 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Thursday 12/05

  • Duolingo: 20 XP earned, ~0 minutes
  • Reading: 2% of Antihistoria de México, ~60 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of Kiwillius, ~60 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Friday 12/06

  • Duolingo: 20 XP earned, ~0 minutes
  • Reading: 2% of Antihistoria de México, ~60 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of Kiwillius, ~60 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Saturday 12/07

  • Duolingo: 20 XP earned, ~0 minutes
  • Reading: Carlos Camarrón y los Aullidos del Horror, ~60 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of Kiwillius, 2 episodes of She-Ra, 1 episode of Mickey Mouse, ~90 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Sunday 12/08

  • Duolingo: 20 XP earned, ~0 minutes
  • Reading: 3% of Antihistoria de México, ~90 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of Kiwillius, ~60 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Monday 12/09

  • Duolingo: 20 XP earned, ~0 minutes
  • Reading: 3% of Cien Años de Soledad, ~60 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of Kiwillius, ~60 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes
  • Total Duolingo: 140 XP, 0 minutes
  • Total reading: 1 and 1/3 books, 450 minutes
  • Total watching/listening: 7 YouTube episodes and 4 tv episodes, 450 minutes
  • Total speaking: reading out loud, 210 minutes
  • Total Time: 15 hours 0 minutes

Numbers all around!  So a pretty boilerplate week as I went back to work without any extra breaks thanks to holidays.  I finished Discworld and had the start of my aforementioned existential crisis before moving on to Antihistoria de México, and … well, I didn’t switch to Cien Años de Soledad on a whim.  I gave that history book a real shot, but I ended up dropping it.  Not because I was having difficulty understanding it or anything, just that it wasn’t really what it was advertised to be.  I tend to like “cynical history” type books, where common misconceptions and cultural myths get pulled down in favor of the truth.  What I don’t tend to like is right wing propaganda dressed up like cynical history.

There were some red flags in the introduction, when the book insisted that “both sides tend to mythologize” and that it was trying to be “apolitical,” which number one, being “apolitical” is impossible, but more importantly, number two, is in this current world a dog whistle for alt-right sentiments.  But it could have just been misguided, so I kept going.  And … oof, okay, the first chapter started out on an okay foot, breaking down the misconception that the Bering Strait was an “ice bridge” when humans crossed over, but then it devoted a very long time talking about how violent, primitive, and inferior the native tribes were socially and technologically compared to Europe, which left me deeply uncomfortable.  But I kept going after that, thinking that maybe it was just trying to break the myth of the “wise and noble savage in tune with nature,” which is deeply flawed, but leaned too far in the wrong direction.

Then the second chapter started lionizing Cortéz, and trying to claim that him having syphilis was somehow a positive sign, and I had to run away screaming.  If I had a physical copy, I might have burned it.

Anyway, I thought about taking my copy of El Mundo Según Garp with me to work, but I’m working out of different offices every day this week and it seemed like a pain, so I picked up an ebook copy of Cien Años de Soledad, which was recommended by one of those work friends I mentioned.  It’s treating me well so far, and by the time I finish it, I’ll have a permanent desk to bring Garp to every day.

Outside of reading, I don’t have much to mention.  I finished She-Ra, as I said before, beginning the housekeeping of clearing out the almost-finished Netflix shows I’ve been talking about.  There are several others to finish off still, but I’m still listening to a good chunk of my daily Spanish on my commute, and want to actually watch those shows.  What I might end up doing once I have that permanent desk is take a nice set of headphones with me to work and watch an episode of something over my lunch break instead of reading some days.  Might be a nice change of pace to do.

Well, that’s enough blathering for now.  TTFN.

6 thoughts on “Old Endings and New Beginnings

  1. My reading hasn’t been anywhere near as exhaustive as yours (I’m close to reaching my goal of hitting 10,000 pages though, which feels really good) and I can identify with that feeling of not being sure what book to pick up next. Initially, I went through several thousand pages of translated manga, sci-fi, and fantasy, which kept the reading from feeling like work, but one thing I found a little disappointing is that I was picking up a lot of vocabulary with very niche use. I read through two Game of Throne books and now I know the Spanish words for chain mail, brandish, and gallop. That’s obviously very useful when I’m talking about my job with my tutor or trying to give my toddler son directions in Spanish.

    Lately I’ve been choosing books based on what kind of vocabulary I want to pick up. I read through a Dave Ramsey book because I wanted to be able to talk about personal finances in Spanish. I read No Soy Tu Perfecta Hija Mexicana because I figured I’d see some Mexican slang/curse words in context and learn vocab related to schools. I’m currently working my way through ¡Que Le Den a La Sciencia! since I’ve always had a huge interest in debunking popular superstitions and beliefs and I want to be able to talk about those things with my tutors. That last book, by the way, is really outside of my comfort zone—there’s a lot of science terminology and occasionally the author makes references I can’t follow (I guess there’s a region of Spain where the people are known for thinking they’re really smart? Or something?).

    So far I haven’t been able to find a book that hooks me into the Spanish literary scene. I was hoping that Latin America might have their own famous sci-fi and fantasy writers, but that doesn’t seem to be the case (as far as I know). When I scan through the top-sellers I mostly see self-help books and classic authors and translations of English works. The classic stuff feels too much like work and most of the self-help stuff makes me roll my eyes.

    Radio Ambulante has probably been the one thing that’s authentically Latino that I get to enjoy because of all the work I’ve put into Spanish. It’s not literature in a traditional sense (it’s a podcast similar to This American Life), but there are transcripts that you can read along with as you listen to the audio and it tells stories set in different places in Latin America. Some of the stories are “big” and talk about a national disaster or a corrupt government, while others are more small scale and tell the story of a single family. Sometimes they’ll run stories that are light-hearted, like the 40 minute episode they did about the Mexican dub of Los Simpson and how the voice-actors were mistreated and underpaid.When I’m done with my current book I was thinking of working my way through all of their available episodes. We’ll see though—I saw that all The Expanse books have been translated to Spanish and a part of me wants to see if it lives up to hype.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, I’m with you on looking for science fiction or fantasy over a lot of other genres. Most of the recommendations I’ve gotten from coworkers have been what could be considered the classics of Spanish (I got talked into Cien áños de Soledad because while it’s a classic it’s also light fantasy), and while I like classics, they’re not exactly light reading. Need to be in the right sort of mood for classics, and I’d rather space them out through more daily-reader sort of fare.

      One potential author to look into that got talked up a lot to me was Paulo Coelho. I’ve read El Alquimista, but didn’t dig too deeply in his other books, because I figured translation from Portuguese into Spanish was just trading one “not ideal” category for another, but I’m apparently mistaken. Since Portuguese and Spanish are so closely related, the translations are handled with a really light touch and as a result his books all read like they were originally written in Spanish, apparently (and in addition to that, most of his body of work is fantasy of some sort).

      Your current plan of reading books that are on topics you’re interested in learning the vocab for makes a lot of sense to me, too. I don’t really mind picking up words that I’m not going to use in my day to day life (I got cota de malla wedged into my brain a couple dozen Discworld books ago, and while it hasn’t helped me give directions to anyone, it did help me read the rest of the books in the series :P), but you do end up noticing topics of conversation where your vocabulary is spotty to nonexistent, and going toward books that can fill in those gaps would certainly help with that.

      And I’m going to have to give Radio Ambulante a try, as I’m still looking for podcasts to help fill my work commute.

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  2. A few people have recommended me Paulo Coelho, but I still haven’t tried any of his books. Maybe I’ll finally give them a shot after you give your impressions on your blog.

    I’m looking forward to hearing you post about the podcasts that you’re finding. There’s not a lot of podcasts that I’ve found that can really hold my attention. On my commute I’ve mostly just been listening to the Spanish dub of early seasons of the Simpsons on Disney +.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I haven’t found a ton of podcasts so far, either. The only ones I’ve listened to consistently at all are No Hay Tos and TED en Español. I enjoy No Hay Tos quite a bit and would happily recommend it, but there aren’t a ton of episodes, and half of them are about specific rules and features of Spanish, which I find less enjoyable than the episodes where they’re just talking about life and stuff. TED, meanwhile, is often great, but the quality is really uneven. Some episodes are really interesting, others are dull and vaguely insulting (kind of like TED talks in English, IMO). Other than that, there are several I’ve tried and haven’t gotten that far into. Per Nocte is really interesting, but VERY difficult to follow thanks to the accents,and Ciudad Champiñón seemed like it might tackle gaming news and things in an interesting way, but is really chaotic thanks to having several hosts, so it’s hard to follow for different reasons. I’m still hopeful that my ideal Spanish podcast is out there and has hundreds of back episodes, but that’s kinda wishful thinking.

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  3. No Hay Tos I really like. I want to say that because of that podcast I found this blog? Like I think you mentioned the podcast, and they posted something where they mentioned you mentioning it, or something and I clicked on the link? It’s all kind of hazy.

    There’s another podcast that is similar called “How To Spanish.” It’s basically the same format except they research their topics more in advance and they’re not nearly as relaxed and informal. Unfortunately, they also have episodes where they focus on some aspect of grammar. I got the impression from reading the No Hay Tos patreon page that it’s a lot of the listeners who want those kinds of episodes. I think a lot of learners feel that if they keep studying the grammar they’ll master it—versus just picking up naturally as you consume a lot of media.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I remember someone linking me on reddit one time, but I think it was the podcast Valle del Cielo Gris? It has been a while, so maybe I’m misremembering. And speaking of that podcast, I’ve been meaning to go back to it, because at the time that happened it was too difficult for me to really follow, and I haven’t tried again in a while, mostly because I find myself drawn more to nonfiction “people talking about stuff” style podcasts, rather than fiction podcast/radio shows like Valle is.

      With No Hay Tos, at least the grammar lesson episodes are all delivered IN Spanish, with examples and things, so listening to those episodes also delivers regular content alongside the grammar stuff. I just find grammar lessons like that kind of tedious. Not necessarily boring, because a lot of the topics are interesting and I kind of like grammar as a topic, but episodes and conversations about grammar are always delivered in the same way and the conversations end up being a slog. I’d much rather read a book about etymology than have someone go through the grammatical uses of the verb “echar,” you know?

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